LOVE IN THE CITY: ATTEMPTED SUICIDE (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1953)

In 1953 Cesare Zavattini produced L’amore in città, which comprises six short films, each by a different filmmaker, in one instance, two filmmakers, one of them Zavattini, who also contributed to the scripts of all but one of the films. The “city” is contemporary Rome.
     Michelangelo Antonioni wrings from the omnibus film’s overarching theme of love the tormented love that “Tentato suicidio” pseudo-documents, that is to say, portrays. Nonprofessionally cast, the film purports to have gathered young women who have attempted suicide; with a sumptuous expanse of blank space overhead, they are lit so that they appear as shades or shadows: psychologically, death’s lasting imprint. Indeed, high-contrast black-and-white cinematography (by Gianni Di Venanzo, no less) yields throughout deep shadows gripping the forms of human figures.
     Three women are individually interviewed. The first, whose fiancé didn’t want her to work at a job or to read books, appears alternately in two positions: sitting on a public bench—an indication of the recent past; standing up for the interview. Sitting down implies relaxation, but ironical Antonioni uses these images to convey the defeatism and exhaustion that preceded Rosanna Carta’s suicide attempt (as a pedestrian in traffic) and to suggest relapses following her survival. The second interviewee—an 18-year-old girl—attempted suicide twice, once by drowning outdoors and the second time, indoors, by cutting her wrist. When we watch her begin to do this, we momentarily presume we are glimpsing a past suicide attempt; but her remark, “There was blood everywhere,” corrects our error. This is typical of Antonioni’s creation of confused time elements as a means of conveying the interviewee’s high level of past and recurrent anxiety.
     “Don’t you think life has its good moments?” the offscreen interviewer asks.
     Overwhelmingly bad ones, too.

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